How to Start Telemark Skiing

By Meredith Berg , last updated November 12, 2011

Whether you are a master of the slopes and are looking for a new challenge, or you have simply become curious about returning to the roots of downhill skiing, you should try Telemark skiing. Ancestor of modern skiing, and still a unique activity, Telemark skiing is becoming a hot sport, more than two hundred years after its invention. Here is how to start Telemark skiing.

Learning to Walk Before You Run

While many resorts do offer Telemark ski classes, for the most part you should not attempt strapping on these challenging skis unless you have already become confident in standard alpine downhill skiing. Cross-country skiing will give you some good experience as well, but if you are expecting to use Telemark skis to carve turns into fresh powder, or difficult runs, learn the more popular alpine skiing first. While there is some difference between the two that you will need to get used to, many of the general principles, including balance and hip direction, are related. If you are already a competent downhill skier, it shouldn’t take you too many tries to acclimate to Telemark, but do not try to hit a black diamond run right out of the gate.

What Makes It So Different?

Telemark skiis come in many variations, but the thing that makes them different from typical alpine downhill skiis is that your heel is loose, or “free.” They resemble cross-country skiis in this way, but their shape and weight are formulated for downhill skiing, not trekking. The act of doing downhill turns with a free heel differs from a standard alpine downhill ski because you cannot cut into the snow with any heel force, which you will be used to as a downhill skier.

How It’s Done

If you are at all nervous about your first Telemark experience, it is best to take a class. This is merely an article, grasshopper, and only you know how to best ensure your safety. Also, as with any sport, make sure you are physically fit for strenuous activity before you begin. Telemark skiing is very challenging because deep lunges are central to control. Start with a bunny hill or a green circle run before you take a lift too far from help. Remember to use your poles when you turn, to avoid losing your balance.

With an alpine downhill ski, you lean into the edge of the ski to cut from side to side. But without heels attached, on Telemark skis you would topple into a drift. Or a very angry skier. For Telemark skiing you must slide one ski ahead of another. For instance, if you want to turn right, plant your right pole. Bend your right knee, deeply, and slide your right ski back. At the same time, slide your left ski forward. Turn your hips toward the direction you would like to go and raise back up, keeping your balance level. The freedom of your heel will be an odd sensation, but this is exactly the feeling Telemark diehards crave.

After you have mastered the free heel slide turn, you are ready to dominate the mountain. Take advantage of the skis’ likeness to cross-country skis to seek out undiscovered areas and carve first tracks.

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